Obituary: Professor Walter Bartley

Walter Bartley, biochemist: born Brighton 20 January 1916; Professor of Biochemistry, Sheffield University 1963-81, Dean of the Faculty of Pure Science 1972-75, Pro Vice Chancellor 1977-81; married (one son, one daughter); died Sheffield 19 August 1994.

WALTER BARTLEY's path to becoming a university professor of biochemistry and later a Dean and Pro Vice Chancellor at Sheffield University was, to say the least, unconventional.

Bartley had spent his early years in Brighton and was educated at the local grammar school. Yet, because of family circumstances, he did not go on to higher education but left school to become a technician at Brighton College of Technology in the early Thirties where he helped to prepare biology classes, including those for summer schools run by academics from the zoology department at Sheffield University.

At the outset of the Second World War, Bartley registered as a conscientious objector and was dismissed from his post. Fortunately his contacts with the Sheffield zoologists led to his becoming a volunteer in a study of scabies being directed by Kenneth Mellanby at the Sorby Institute in the city. His arrival there in November 1940 could not have been more dramatic, since on the first night he was not only bombed out of the Scala Cinema (by coincidence, later part of the Department of Biochemistry at the university), but also out of his hotel. At the Sorby Institute, where he met his future wife, Mella, the work with scabies was followed by studies on Vitamin A deficiency and night blindness; and Vitamin C deficiency and scurvy directed by Professor Hans Krebs.

At the end of the war Bartley accepted Krebs's offer of a post as technician in the Department of Biochemistry at Sheffield University. Under Krebs's guidance, the department was an international centre of excellence for biochemistry and Bartley readily acknowledged the first-rate training he obtained from the outstanding individuals about him. At Krebs's suggestion, he went on to become a mature student at the university and emerged with First Class honours in physiology. He completed a PhD under Krebs's supervision and then became a member of the Medical Research Council Unit for Cell Metabolism Research which Krebs directed.

Bartley's association with Sheffield was interrupted when, in 1954, he moved to Oxford when Krebs was appointed to the Chair of Biochemistry there. I never gained the impression that Bartley was totally happy with his experiences in Oxford. Although his research work went very well and he developed a great interest in energy metabolism and mitochondrial function it was difficult for him to come to terms with the apparent lack of acceptance of newcomers by university staff. He was also concerned by the lack of facilities for postgraduates and was therefore pleased to be associated with the creation of Linacre House, which provided accommodation to those not affiliated to a college.

In 1963 Bartley was appointed to the Chair of Biochemistry at Sheffield University and renewed an association with the city that continued to the end of his life. He rebuilt a department which had been depleted by the 'brain drain' to the United States and amongst others appointed J. R. Quayle (later Vice-Chancellor of Bath University) and L. M. Birt (later Vice-Chancellor of the University of New South Wales) and three members of a Medical Research Council group studying intracellular organelles under his direction, as senior lecturers.

As a member of that group and later of the university staff I was able to admire the way he achieved an expansion of teaching and research in the department. He pursued research on adaptation to stress in mammals while encouraging his staff to follow their own areas of interest. He was an excellent head of department, prepared to encourage the development of others by giving responsibility to those, however inexperienced, he thought could cope with it. When he delegated to others he always supported their decisions even when he did not agree with them. He was a dedicated teacher who together with P. Banks and L. M. Birt wrote an innovative textbook for medical students, The Biochemistry of Tissues (1968). Together with his wife he helped his staff through their various problems, entertained them and took an interest in their offspring.

Bartley's administrative skills and integrity made him a most successful Dean of the Faculty of Pure Science from 1972 to 1975 and for the last four years of his service to the University a Pro Vice Chancellor. There is no doubt that his conscientiousness took a heavy toll on him and I suspect he much regretted being taken away from laboratory work. But on retirement, apart from having more time for the gardening he enjoyed so much, he returned to the bench, initially at the Wolfson Institute for Biotechnology within the university and in more recent years to work in my own laboratory, in the Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology. He maintained the high standards he had achieved throughout his career and established an excellent rapport with the technicians and research students.

There is little doubt that Bartley's background and training contributed a great deal to producing a very caring man with a considerable determination to succeed. Although his occasionally blunt and direct manner could intimidate some staff as well as students, he had their interests at heart and many individuals owe him a debt of gratitude for his efforts on their behalf. He was an exceptional man who never allowed personal differences to cloud his judgement and appreciation of the achievements of others.

It was a great privilege to have worked with Walter Bartley and I shall never forget the brevity and clarity of the advice he gave. It was exemplified by his comment when I became head of his old department: 'Remember that you can only resign once.'

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Assistant / Human Resources Assistant

£Neg + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: An HR Assistant / Human Resources Ass...

Talent Community Coordinator

£Neg + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A Talent Community Coordinator is nee...

Business Support - Banking - Halifax - £250 pd

£150 - £250 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - HR - Halifax - £150 - £250...

Geography Teacher

£24000 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform